Next generation solar: Are coaters in a position to ‘flex’ their expertise?

December 19, 2012 Greg Rosenberg

As thin films continue to revolutionize photovoltaics, converters may hold the key to finally bringing solar energy to the mass market. And why not?  Skilled converters with the right equipment are playing both a supporting role in bringing the latest research to life, and a leading role in advancing coating capabilities across a broad spectrum of production methods and applications.

Of the myriad coating methods currently used to meet the critical demands of the solar industry, few can offer the right balance of precision and productivity needed to make solar panels effective and affordable.  For example, physical vapor deposition is a preferred method for coating glass in solar production. Glass remains the substrate of choice due to its low cost, and vapor deposition yields consistent, precise results. But neither the substrate nor the coating process provide much hope for mass production.

Slot-die coating seems to offer a better balance. Slot dies ensure consistent liquid dispersion so they’re ideally suited for the conductive slurries used in thin-film photovoltaics. Blemish-free non-conductive coatings imparting UV and moisture protection are equally vital, and slot die coaters can offer high quality films to meet these needs. Unlike most other coating methods, slot die technology produces films and coatings on par with the quality and precision of vapor deposition, with the additional advantage of doing it in a high volume, roll-to-roll process.

It may take a while to get there, but given the advantages offered by flexible substrates – namely production speed and light weight – solar panel manufacturers and researchers will continue to improve flexible technologies. And they’ll need good converters to make it happen.